A DAD-of-three has been jailed for child grooming offences after being caught twice by 'paedophile hunters'.

Bolton Crown Court heard Matthew Leonard, of Glendale House, Bolton, engaged in contact with what he believed to be two 14-year-old girls on Facebook between December 2019 and January 2021.

Neil Fryman, prosecuting, told the court: “A member of Hunting for Justice, a self-proclaimed ‘paedophile hunters’ group, set up a fake Facebook profile portrayed as a fictitious 14-year-old girl called, Ella Jones.”

The former tyre-fitter exchanged around 385 messages with the profile over Facebook between December 23 and 29, 2019.

Leonard also invited 'Ella' to his friend's house, where he said he would be alone, and discussed graphic sex acts during their conversations.

He claimed to be aged 25, a few years younger than he was at the time, the court heard.

The messages resulted in a planned meeting outside Farnworth Library where Hunting for Justice representatives chased Leonard towards the town's Asda store. He was later arrested by police.

He had also offered to pay for a hotel room for the pair previously, despite the messages repeatedly saying she was 14.

While on bail for the first offence, Leonard befriended 'Madison Jenkins' - who he believed was a 14-year-old girl from Ipswich.

The court heard how the 32-year-old paid her compliments and made sexual suggestions, as well as encouraging her to travel five hours from her hometown to Moses Gate train station so the pair could meet. He also encouraged her to send illicit photographs.

But 'Madison' was a profile used by a second 'paedophile hunter' group called Justice for Kids.

The communication died out and Leonard was later arrested on April 8, 2021.

Nicholas Ross, defending, said: “Given the fact these were not the complete offence, I would urge that there is a downward reduction in the sentencing. Ultimately these were attempts.

“My client genuinely regrets what he did, and admits there was absolutely no excuse. He said, in his own words, that there is no way he will ever do anything like this again.”

Leonard has been before the courts 30 times before for 45 offences since 2004 - but not for sexual offending.

He admitted to attempting to incite a child to engage in sexual activity and attempting to meet a child following sexual grooming

Passing sentence, Recorder David Temkin told Leonard: “After much careful consideration I do not find you to be a dangerous offender.

"Although you pleaded guilty and you had difficulties growing up with relationships, drugs and alcohol, these count for very little in terms of mitigation.”

Mr Recorder Temkin added that the sentences for both offences had been reduced due to the fact that he did not commit “actual harm” to any minors.

He was jailed for 50 months and will be subject to a sexual harm prevention order.